IBS is really not the best name for irritable bowel syndrome. The term “irritable” implies a mild annoyance, but this disease can be far more than just a nuisance. It is a chronic, life-long battle that can cause mild to debilitating pain and gastrointestinal distress such as the following usual suspects:
• Stomach pain
There are many different possible causes of IBS include the following:
• Overly forceful or not forceful enough large intestinal muscle contractions
• Food intolerance
• Neurological issues such as delayed GI control, sensitivity to pain, or imbalance of neurotransmitters
• Genetic predisposition
• Chronic stress
• Hormonal imbalance
• Bacterial infections
• Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
The rest of this post will focus on bacterial contributions to IBS.
IBS symptoms due to bacteria are caused by an imbalance of the different species. The good bacteria that normally reside in the colon facilitate maximum absorption of nutrients by breaking down foods we can’t, reducing large intestinal inflammation, and preventing disease causing bad bacteria from establishing residence. If these good bacteria are missing, disease-causing bacteria can latch on and wreak havoc.
But it is not only pathogenic bacteria that can wreak havoc. Incorrectly proportioned good bacteria will also cause an imbalance and result in GI distress. Whether there is too much bad bacteria or too much good bacteria, either scenario stops the different species from working synergistically to create the optimal intestinal microbiome.
Over 50% of IBS patients have been shown to have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which occurs when the “good” large intestinal bacteria creep backwards into the small intestine and start to proliferate. So even though in this scenario there is actually an overproduction of “good” bacteria, it is not in the right place and there is too much of it, which causes gastrointestinal distress.
Warning bells – how can a probiotic help if I already have “too much” of the good bacteria? If there is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, first thing is first – the bacteria has to be eradicated, and there are several different kinds of antibiotics that doctors may prescribe. After the GI tract is squeaky clean, the correct probiotic therapy can be a way to re-introduce and nurture the appropriate large intestinal flora. Many studies support that probiotics ease IBS symptoms, but the data is admittedly hard to interpret due to the existence of so many bacterial strains. There are so many different probiotics with different cocktails of cultures, and it is important to talk to your doctor and be deliberate about the strain you take. As discussed in the last post, Lactobacillus reuteri is the strain that we use in our product that has been clinically proven to significantly improve digestive health symptoms, so it might be a good place to start.
Kelly Daescu, MS